For many, bereavement following a suicide can feel amplified. Grief can be overwhelming regardless of the cause of death. However, a death by suicide can be even more excruciating and complicated.
Those who survive a loved one's death by suicide feel the same profound pain and suffering as others who grieve significant losses. However, they must also face the stigma associated with suicide while coping with added complicated emotional responses.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Can You Expect to Feel After a Loved One Commits Suicide?
- Tips for Coping After a Loved One's Suicide
- How to Help Loved Ones Who Lost Someone to Suicide
The profound pain you may be feeling now is similar to how it would feel if your loved one died suddenly or in any other way. Some people who've experienced the death of a loved one by suicide may feel more intense grief than usual.
For example, feelings of shame, guilt, and blame can feel more substantial than with other types of losses. Managing grief following a suicide can get tangled and messy. The following may help you better manage your pain and suffering.
How Can You Expect to Feel After a Loved One Commits Suicide?
There are different types of grief associated with the suicide death of a loved one. When people ask, "how are you feeling?" it can be almost impossible to answer briefly. You can expect to feel an overwhelming sense of loss mixed with inexplicable feelings of anger, shame, guilt, longing, and regret. The emotional responses to suicide-related grief can be long and complicated.
Anger is a shared response among survivors of a suicide death. It's not uncommon to feel anger toward the person who died as much as toward yourself for not doing more to intervene. Another way in which anger shows up is anger toward God or another higher power.
A typical response to grief is finding someone to blame for your loss. Your feelings and emotions will go through many cycles as you learn to cope with your pain.
Tips for Coping After a Loved One’s Suicide
While you may be familiar with grief, each experience is unique and can surprise you in different ways. As you go through your feelings and emotions after the death of a loved one by suicide, remember to be gentle with yourself. It is important to be patient, as the grief timeline cannot be easily measured in weeks, months, or even years.
Brace for unknown emotions
As with all loss, suicide grieving will go through the stages of grief for most people. Not everyone will experience grief in stages, and some may never experience any of them. That said, some of the expected grief reactions include:
- Denial: An emotional numbness usually associated with disbelief may set in. An initial response to your loved one's suicide may be one of doubt.
- Anger: Anger toward your loved one for dying by suicide is a normal grief response following this type of loss. You may be angry at them, yourself, or others for not doing more to prevent their suicide.
- Bargaining: Bargaining over your loved one’s death comes in waves, following shock, anger, and disbelief. You may seek ways to make a deal for the return of your loved one in exchange for a slew of promises.
- Depression: Trying and failing to make sense of your loved one’s death may sink you deeper into despair. There may never be any answers as to why they died by suicide.
- Acceptance: Getting to the stage of acceptance isn’t the marker for the end of suffering. Any of the stages of grief may come back full circle when least expected.
Understand your feelings
Death by suicide tends to give rise to complicated grief. You may find yourself spending an enormous amount of time trying to figure out why your loved one died this way. Not understanding the feelings and emotions that creep up following a suicide may cause you to internalize them, making things worse for you in the long run.
It may help you to talk with a professional who can help you sort out your feelings. Once you get your emotions out in the open, it opens the door to the healing process.
Don’t blame yourself
Know that it's not your fault that your loved one chose suicide over life. You'll never really know or understand why they took their life. There are some things you can't understand surrounding this type of death. Remind yourself that you're not responsible for your loved one's suicide.
Regardless of any verbal exchanges, arguments, or disagreements leading up to their death, you are not responsible for their actions. Blaming yourself is a shared grief reaction that follows the suicide of someone you know and love.
You may find yourself going over in your head all of the ways you could have or should have helped them. It may help you list out all the things you did help and support them along the way when they were alive.
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Prepare for the stigma
Talking about suicide makes many people uncomfortable. There's a certain stigma that attaches to a death caused by suicide. Unfortunately, the deceased's family is left to deal with the stress of destigmatizing this type of loss once it occurs. People generally feel a sense of discomfort when this topic arises.
It helps to prepare ahead of time how to bring it up and what to say. There's a difference in the way people perceive the act of committing suicide versus having died by suicide. The first way makes it appear that there was a direct intention, while the latter removes the intent, purpose, and blame that usually attaches.
Remember that it's not your responsibility to remove the stigma from suicide. Tell your story in whatever way that helps you heal and makes you feel comfortable.
Getting the help you need can come from many different resources. Your closest social support system is where you should start asking for and getting the help you need.
Reach out to those you know and trust and let them in on how you’re feeling after your loss. You may find that there are some people you know who are uncomfortable with talking about death or suicide, and that’s okay.
Keep trying until you find someone you connect with who understands your need for support. If you’ve exhausted all efforts and still need help, consider seeking the guidance of a counselor or therapist.
How to Help Loved Ones Who Lost Someone to Suicide
Following a loved one's death can be one of the most mentally and emotionally taxing times one can endure. When someone has died by suicide, those feelings intensify. Helping a loved one who has lost someone to suicide can be difficult at best. You may be unsure what to do when a friend's parent dies suddenly.
Expect that your loved one will go through the same feelings of profound and heart-wrenching loss as anyone else who suffered the death of someone they know and love. Here are some ways to lend your love and support to someone you know who lost someone to suicide.
Anyone who has lost a loved one will need extra support immediately following a death. Consider calling your friend to let them know that you know of the news and express your condolences.
If it’s impossible to make a phone call, send a text message, or reach out to them on social media. Although a more personal approach is best in these circumstances, you may feel more comfortable maintaining some distance.
Help notify others
One of the most formidable challenges your friend will face following the death of their loved one is having to tell others what's happened. Facing your loved ones, friends, relatives, and colleagues can be intimidating after a death by suicide. Offer to step in to notify those closest friends and family members needing to know. You may want to go over ahead of time precisely what you'll say.
Offer to accompany them
There are many formalities following a death by suicide. Expect there to be police reports and inquests, a follow-up with the coroner, and appointments with the funeral director. Ask your loved one if they’d like for you to accompany them as a source of support. They may not be in the right frame of mind to get behind the wheel.
They may also not be able to answer too many questions all at once. Having you there will provide them with the needed support during the first few days following their loved one’s death.
Become their spokesperson
Sometimes a death by suicide seems to attract media attention. A suicide becomes newsworthy when it happens in a public or well-known place where other suicides have occurred.
When a particularly young person dies, it can attract more media attention than usual. You can offer to take over all media inquiries until interest wanes. Remember that you aren't obligated to answer their questions or to report anything to the media.
Be there to listen
Listening to your loved one tell you about the death of someone they love is very healing to them. Although they may have retold the same story and details dozens of times, continue to listen without judgment or interruption.
Talking about their loss helps your loved one move forward from this experience a little each time they talk about it. Be kind and gentle with them for the next few weeks or months.
Grieving After a Suicide
Everyone copes with death differently. Grief following a suicide can be confusing, complicated, and feel like it’ll never end. In time, you’ll slowly begin to see a pattern of healing as you move through your grief journey. Little by little, your life will start falling back into place, and you’ll soon discover a new way of surviving after the death of your loved one.